The WWII tragedy of the Polish priest in the woods

The village of Newtyle in Angus where Father Karol Bik was stationed. PIC Contributed.
The village of Newtyle in Angus where Father Karol Bik was stationed. PIC Contributed.
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He was the “beloved” chaplain of some of the first Polish troops sent to Scotland to protect the coastline from possible German attack.

First stationed in the Arbroath area as part of an effort to defend the North East from German-occupied Norway, Father Karol Bik served with 14th Jazlowiecki Lancers Regiment.

Around 17,000 troops arrived in Scotland in 1940 to help with the defence of the east coast. Father Karol Bik was one of the first chaplains to arrive with the soldiers. PIC Wikipedia.

Around 17,000 troops arrived in Scotland in 1940 to help with the defence of the east coast. Father Karol Bik was one of the first chaplains to arrive with the soldiers. PIC Wikipedia.

Shortly after arriving in Scotland, Father Karol was moved inland with reservist troops and settled in Newtyle. Quickly adjusting to his new surrounds, the chaplain took to the woods and hills surrounding the village for “each free moment” he had.

One day, Father Karol never returned, his whereabouts unknown for several days.

Today, among the trees stands a simple soldier’s cross on the spot where the priest was founded dead, aged 54, having most likely suffered a heart attack.

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Facing down the valley over the village, the cross - put there by the men that he served - proves a powerful memorial to Father Karol and the presence of the Polish Army in the area.

The regiment was hit by a second tragedy less than 24 hours after Father Karol was found, according to local researchers.

Aspirant Ignacy Brak, who had served Father Karol at Mass, was involved in a motor cycle accident and died in an army ambulance in Perth, it is understood.

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Both men are buried in the Polish war grave section of Wellshill cemetery in the city with the service carried out by the Field Bishop of the Polish Army.

A newspaper cutting from Polish military newspaper, Dziennik Zolnnierza, dated 16th October 1941, details the last goodbyes of the Lancers before they moved on from Angus.

The report said: “After the Holy Mass, the Commander of the regiment led a pilgrimage of Lancers to the hill above the little village, where the Jazlowiacy left their beloved Chaplain, Father Karol.

“He had taken a liking to this Scottish Village, it reminded him of his home and family and each free moment he spent roaming these hills, but from one such wandering he never returned.

“The Regiment left on the hill among the rustling Scottish Firs where Father Karol died a memorial of a simple oak Soldier’s Cross. Last Sunday at the cross, the Lancers said goodbye to their beloved Chaplain, Father Karol Bik.”

Before arriving in Scotland, it is understood that Father Karol went into hiding in Krakow and the surrounding countryside as Germany invaded Poland.

After leaving Poland he crossed Romania and Hungary, where he ministered in Polish refugee camps.

From Hungary he moved to France where became a chaplain of the General Maczek brigade before arriving in Scotland in June 1940 following the French and German Armistice.

It is estimated around 17,000 Polish soldiers were first directed to Scotland where they were housed temporarily in camps around Crawford, Douglas and Biggar before establishing more permanent bases in Angus and Perthshire. Barony Castle in Peebles was to become the main Polish staff officer training college.

Polish forces took over existing coastal defences and strengthened them with anti-tank barriers and pill boxes between Montrose and Burntisland.

Their remit switched to East Lothian in the Spring of 1942 with the country’s armoured train also coming under their control.

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